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Szechuan pepper (or Sichuan pepper) is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylum (most commonly Z. piperitum Z. simulans and Z. schinifolium) widely grown and consumed in Asia as a spice. Despite the name it is not related to black pepper or to chili peppers. It is widely used in the cuisine of Szechuan " China from which it takes its name as well as Tibetan Bhutanese " Nepalese Japanese and Konkani and Batak Toba cuisines among others.
Szechuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like black or white pepper or chili peppers but has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth that sets the stage for these hot spices. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seedpods before adding them to food. Only the husks are used and the shiny black seeds are discarded or ignored as they have a very gritty sand-like texture. It is generally added at the last moment. Star anise and ginger are often used with Szechuan Pepper and figure prominently in spicy Szechuan cuisine. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses. Ma La a flavor common in Szechuan cooking " is a combination of Szechuan pepper and chili pepper. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seedpods before adding them to food. Only the husks are used and the shiny black seeds are discarded or ignored as they have a very gritty sand-like texture. It is generally added at the last moment. Hua jiao yan is a mixture of salt and Szechuan pepper roasted and browned in a wok and served as a condiment to accompany chicken " duck and pork dishes. The peppercorns can also be lightly fried in order to make a spicy oil with various uses. In Indonesian Batak cuisine it is ground into a green sambal Tinombur or chili paste by mixing with chilis and seasonings to accompany grilled pork carp and other regional specialities. Szechuan pepper is one of the few spices important for Tibetan and Bhutanese cookery of the Himalayas because few spices can be grown there. One Himalayan specialty is the momo a dumpling stuffed with vegetables cottage cheese or minced yak meat beef or pork and flavoured with Szechuan pepper garlic ginger and onion. The noodles are steamed and served dry together with a fiery sauce.
The Szechuan peppercorn is thought to have many medicinal properties. It is recognised for its ability to help relieve chronic pain ease toothaches purify blood and kill tape worms. In addition to digesting Szechuan by eating food dishes containing the spice Szechuan can also be used to make a tea (using the bark of the plant) or crushed into powder and applying directly onto areas affected by chronic pain. It is thought that a large part of the Szechuan peppercorn's medicinal ability comes from its numbing effect on the body.